Easy potluck pasta bake

Today was my first day of physical therapy after my knee surgery, and man was it harder than I thought it would be! I knew that working on getting my bend back would be hard, but I didn’t think trying to straighten my leg all the way would be as painful as it was. I spent over two weeks in this lovely thing…

…so my knee couldn’t bend, but it wasn’t totally straight either. So it’s kind of in this weird limbo spot where I can’t straighten it or bend it all the way! It’s a little sore since I worked the muscles in that leg more today than I have in a month, but I’m just glad that it’s slowly on the mend. I can handle some pain now if it will get me back to doing yoga! And I can’t wait to try yoga for the first time without having the knee pain that the tumor was causing. I’m hoping within the month I’ll be able to go!

Anyway, I wanted to post the recipe for the pasta bake that I mentioned yesterday. It’s really easy and completely customizable to whatever you have on hand or want to throw in it!

Potluck Pasta Bake
Adapted from Italian Food Forever 

Start by cooking your choice of short pasta. I went with just over a half box of whole grain rotini.

Then, choose what you want to put in the casserole. We used the 1 1/2 cups of diced ham suggested in the recipe. For veggies, we had a bag of frozen broccoli and a bag of frozen chopped spinach that were both almost empty, so we thawed those…

…and my sous chef chopped everything up!

While he was chopping, I sauteed 1/2 cup of onions and 2 garlic cloves in 3 Tbs of butter. Then I whisked in 3 Tbs flour and 3 cups of 1% milk until the mixture was smooth. Next, add your choice of cheese. We chose 8 oz. of shredded cheddar. Add salt, pepper, and 1/2 tsp. of oregano. Put the pasta back in the pot and all your chopped components.

So colorful!

Pour cheese sauce into pot and mix everything together. Transfer to a baking dish and top with  1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I used panko) and 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese. Cover baking dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Then remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until the top is nice and brown and crispy.

We love brown crunchy edges in this house!

This was a great dish – and I think it was even better reheated the next day! I always think that casserole type things, including baked mac and cheese, are better reheated – why is that?!?!

Things I will change next time I make this:
– Add more veggies.
– Use either a combo of different cheeses or try something other than cheddar. The cheddar was great, just not super flavorful. I think maybe some gruyere or fontina would’ve been awesome in this.
– Use less breadcrumbs. I followed the amount in the recipe, but it didn’t evenly brown on top because I think I piled the crumbs too high in some spots.
– more garlic! Because the more garlic the better. 🙂

Overall, very easy, was able to use things we had on hand, and totally customizable!

After eating this for dinner the other night, I promptly pulled this out of the freezer.

Yep. That’s leftover cookie dough from these bad boys. The coconut lime were the boyfriend’s favorite so I made a mini batch for us. They were just as good the second time around! You’d think I’d be trying to lay off the sugar after the holidays. But no. I don’t believe in deprivation. If I want sugar and don’t have it, I get grumpy. 🙂

Do you make casserole-type dishes often? Do you have a favorite or do you just throw in what you have in the kitchen? 

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under About Me, Food

I’m just going to write.

I’ve been putting off my first post of 2012 because I’m kind of a perfectionist about some things. I’ve been thinking about ways I want to evolve this blog and I haven’t posted because I haven’t fully figured out what changes I want to make. But I think I’ve realized that that’s ok. It’s my blog and it can be whatever I want it to be! It doesn’t have to be, and won’t be, perfect. Ever. So I’m just going to write!

That being said, Happy New Year! The boyfriend and I had a wonderful long weekend. We got a great deal on a new TV, filled numerous trash bags of clothes for donation, took down holiday decorations, and relaxed a lot. I also made a really yummy appetizer on Sunday that we had while we watched the Patriots game. And it’s so ridiculously easy!

Pepperoni Roll Ups
Recipe from Dinner with the Donnells
– 1 can crescent rolls
– pepperoni
– mozzarella cheese (I think shredded melts best, but string cheese works too!)

Just lay out the crescent rolls on a cookie sheet, top with 3-4 pieces of pepperoni, sprinkle with as much or as little mozzarella as you like…

…and roll ’em up! I kind of stretched the dough to seal off the ends, but nothing oozed out anyway. You might want to do this if you add more cheese. (Shout out to my brother – thanks for the new cookie sheets you gave me for Xmas! They’ve already been used many times!)

Then just bake according to the crescent roll instructions, until they’re nice and golden brown.

Mmmmm. Check out that gooey cheesy goodness.

These were so good! Not the healthiest in the world, but super easy to make and very yummy. The boyfriend’s exact words were – “These are basically heaven.” He’s a meat and cheese kinda guy. 🙂

Dinner tonight was leftover potluck pasta bake, which I’ll post the recipe for this week, and a big batch of our favorite kale chips!

What did you do for New Year’s? Did you take advantage of any sales? 

1 Comment

Filed under About Me, Food

Amazing holiday cookies

I hope everyone has been having a great holiday season! I know I’m kind of late in the game here, but I wanted to post the two cookie recipes I used as Christmas gifts because they were such a hit. And they aren’t “Christmas cookies” by any means – definitely suitable year-round!

I did a trial run of these the weekend before my surgery, and then spent the Friday before Christmas at my parents’ house making them. I may have overdone it by being on my feet all day – I was so sore that night – but the result was worth it! These babies have been getting rave reviews.

Coconut Lime Sugar Cookies

The only prep-work for these is to toast the coconut and zest the lime. To toast the coconut, just spread an even layer of coconut flakes on a plate and microwave for 20-30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, for about 2-3 minutes. DO NOT just put the coconut in the microwave for 2 minutes and walk away. It will burn. I literally stand there and watch it. It should come out a nice golden brown.

Next, zest a lime. I made sure to get every tiny little section of peel for maximum limey flavor. 🙂

Then, it’s your typical sugar cookie recipe. It yields a light, fluffy, delicious batter. I DARE you not to try the batter after the coconut and lime aromas start wafting through the air.

Then, roll the batter into tablespoon-sized balls, roll them in sugar, and bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees. The edges should be golden and the tops will start to crack a little. Top with coconut flakes if desired.

My Dad literally ate about 10 of these over the span of about 30 minutes. The flavors are just perfect. Definitely a cookie I’ll be making again and again!

Get the full recipe here.

Brown Sugar Cookies with Maple Glaze

The combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, and Karo syrup make these cookies moist, chewy, and super flavorful. The first time I made these I followed the directions and used dark Karo syrup, and for the Christmas batch I used light Karo syrup. They were just as good, the color was just slightly lighter (pictures below are from the dark Karo syrup batch). So either will work fine.

Just a warning – this batter is VERY sticky. I rolled the cookies by hand and my hands were completely covered after rolling three cookies. I’m assuming it’s from the Karo syrup.

The recipe makes these cookies giant, but I made them a nice small size.

The maple glaze totally makes this cookie. It’s just powdered sugar, maple extract, a splash of milk, and Karo syrup. This is also super sticky. I recommend piping it through a bag. When I made the first small batch, I just drizzled it on with a spoon. That works too. 🙂

Get the full recipe here.

And since I just made small batches of these the first time around, I’ve got batter all ready to go in the freezer! It’s perfect since it’s just me and the boyfriend at home – I can make a small batch of 1/2 a dozen cookies or so and save the rest for later.

I also tried out Martha Stewart’s Foolproof Holiday Fudge recipe. It was really simple and came out great. Tasted like the real thing! I didn’t end up making fudge for gifts though since I feel like a lot of people do. I wanted to make something different. But if you’re looking for an easy fudge recipe this one’s great.

Did you do any baking this Christmas or receive any particularly yummy homemade gifts? 

9 Comments

Filed under Food

Kitchen/blogging hiatus

Sooo, I haven’t really posted since Thanksgiving. Maybe you thought I was one of those people who started a blog and then gave up on it shortly after starting it. But I swear, I want to keep blogging. I’ve missed it! And I’ve thought of writing every day.

But here’s the thing. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, I had a health scare. I’ve had knee pain for years and just ignored it, because it wasn’t that bad. But earlier this year, I started doing yoga. And I LOVED yoga. But my knee pain was a hindrance, so I finally went to the doctor. After a normal x-ray and six weeks of physical therapy with no improvement, I went to get an MRI.

They found a BIG tumor in my knee, right at the joint where my knee bends. And then we had to wait a week to see an orthopedic oncologist, not knowing anything else. We basically spent a week thinking I might have cancer. It was the slowest, weirdest, scariest week I think I’ve ever had.

But the specialist knew right away from looking at the MRI that it was benign. It was a rare type of tumor that starts in the joint lining. They don’t know what causes it. And mine, because it was so large, had probably been there for years. It had actually started eating away at my bone.

So two weeks ago today, I had surgery to remove the tumor and get a bone graft for the section that had been invaded. It’s been a slow recovery. I’ve literally left my apartment twice since the surgery. It is really hard to get around. I’m in a full leg immobilizing brace. I can hobble around on it a little, but leaving the apartment means involving the crutches which are cumbersome and exhausting to use.

Anyway, sorry for the long story. Basically, I really can’t be on my feet for more than 10 minutes or so at a time. So I can’t cook. I could have done a few fluffy blog posts but it’s kind of been a roller-coaster past few weeks and I just haven’t felt like writing something sub-par. It’s just one of those times where real life gets in the way. 🙂 But more importantly than missing a few weeks of blogging, I’m healthy, healing, and tumorless, and couldn’t be more grateful for that.

The weekend before my surgery, I tried out some recipes that I plan on baking and using as Christmas gifts. The boyfriend and I leave for Boston on Thursday to be with our families for Christmas, and I’m hoping my mom will be my helper in the kitchen so I can get these done. So get ready for posts on…

these…

these…

and these.

I’m guessing I won’t post while I’m back East. There is just too much to fit in for the few days we’re there. But I will definitely be back at it after the holidays. I just wanted to write something to say this isn’t an abandoned blog!

I hope everyone has a happy, healthy, relaxing holiday!

5 Comments

Filed under About Me, Food

Thanksgiving recap

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Sorry for the lack of posts recently – the past few weeks have been really hectic!

The boyfriend and I were with my aunt, cousin, her husband, and their five-year-old twins for the holiday. Along with some extended family, there were 15 of us at Thanksgiving dinner! We drove down to Orange County last Wednesday afternoon and just got back Sunday night after a great day at Disneyland!

Unfortunately, I totally neglected taking pictures of all the food. But I managed to snap this one – the remnants of the cranberry apple baked brie appetizer I made – it was a hit!

Cranberry Apple Baked Brie
All I did was unroll a sheet of puff pastry, spread on Trader Joe’s cranberry apple butter, put a wedged of brie in the middle of the puffed pastry, and wrap it all up. I whisked an egg and brushed a thin layer on top of the pastry, and baked at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until it was golden brown. Here’s a picture of what it actually looked like (from Iowa Girl Eats) since I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough – this dish was devoured!

This was a successful appetizer. It was gone in no time! And you can totally use any type of jam/spread you want for the flavor. I got the idea here, which used pumpkin butter. But the cranberry apple butter was an amaaaaazing complement to the cheese.

I also contributed the mashed potatoes. Unfortunately this is the only picture I got of them, haha – but that’s what 10 pounds of potatoes looks like!

You can obviously cut down the portions on this, but these are the amounts I used to feed 15 people (and we had plenty left over).

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
– 10 lbs potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
– 2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
– 24 ounces sour cream, at room temperature
– 1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
– 2 heads garlic
– salt and pepper

– To roast the garlic, cut off the tip of each head, drizzle with olive oil, and lightly salt and pepper. Wrap in tin foil and bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
–  Cook the potatoes in salted water until fork tender, about 15-30 minutes depending on how full your pot is. I actually separated the potatoes into 2 pots so they would cook faster. Drain and return to pot.
– Add garlic, butter, and sour cream. To add the roasted garlic, hold by the stem of the garlic head and just squeeze the cloves out. They should slide out pretty easily.
– Mash everything together with a masher (I made the boyfriend do this part).
– Add in milk in small amounts at a time, until you’ve reached your desired consistency.
– Add salt and pepper.

I’m so sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product! But these potatoes tasted amazing. There was just the right amount of garlic, and the sour cream makes them so creamy.

We spent the day at Disneyland on Sunday with the family, so unfortunately we didn’t get to take any leftovers home. (We had a cooler but still didn’t want to leave food in a hot car for the entire day.) But if you still have leftovers, check out these great ideas on how to use them!

Some other photos from the holiday…

Our beautiful turkey, stuffed with apples, onions, sage, and rosemary

One of the table settings

Southern California sunset (the picture really doesn’t do it justice)

Disneyland!

What was your favorite part of the Thanksgiving dinner?
I’d have to say my cousin’s yams!

2 Comments

Filed under Food

Chocolate chip cookie pie

The boyfriend loves anything that involves chocolate chip cookie batter, so I thought I’d try out this chocolate chip cookie pie recipe as an alternative to standard cookies.

It was also my first time trying out this baby.

After the disaster that was my $6.99 hand mixer, this one worked great. It had a nice low speed that didn’t splatter batter all over my kitchen. It was $19.99 at Target and came in lots of fun colors. I had the hot pink one in my cart and then decided that if I ever wanted a sous chef out of the boyfriend I’d better get the red instead. 🙂

First step was to cream butter and sugar together.

Then add eggs and vanilla.

After mixing in the rest of the ingredients (we omitted the nuts from the recipe), transfer to a deep dish pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 60-70 minutes.

Voila!

Mmmmm, look at that gooey chocolatey goodness. This was SO GOOD. The texture was just like a pizookie – much lighter and fluffier than a cookie dough. And this probably goes without saying, but this pie MUST be served warm with vanilla ice cream on top. It’s just the only way to do it right.

The texture of this recipe was spot on. Honestly, the boyfriend and I both agreed that it didn’t even need a pie crust! And I am a girl that loves anything with a crust. But I think this batter can stand on it’s own.

1 Comment

Filed under Food

Honey pepper tofu

I know a lot of people don’t like tofu, but for me it’s just a vessel for whatever flavors you prepare it with – which means it can taste like whatever you want it to! And don’t give me the argument that it’s squishy and spongy and has a gross texture – not the way I prepare it! It comes out nice and crispy.

I always buy extra firm tofu. Then I cut the block the long way into 3-4 slabs. (The thinner you cut your slabs, the crispier the tofu will come out.) I don’t have a fancy tofu press, so I put the slabs on a cutting board, layer several paper towels under and over the tofu, and cover with something heavy for several minutes to squeeze most of the water out. This time I just piled all my cookbooks on top. Hey, ya work with what ya got.

After 10 minutes or so, I manually press the tofu some more with more paper towels just to get as much moisture out as I can. Then, I lay the slabs on a baking sheet, salt and generously pepper, and drizzle honey over the top. Then I flip the slabs over and do the same to the other side. I really like the contrasting spicy and sweet flavors, so I add a hefty amount of pepper. If you want it to be sweeter, just add less pepper and more honey. I then use a spatula to cut the slabs into little pieces.

Put it into a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes, flip the tofu over, and then bake another 10-15 minutes to desired level of crispiness.

This is definitely my favorite way to prepare tofu! These little squares are great tossed on a salad or even on their own. And they reheat in the microwave really well too.

Do you like tofu? What’s your favorite way to eat it? 

5 Comments

Filed under Food